Zimbabwe calls for $1.6 billion in aid to pay for food

Communal farmers cultivate maize crops in Mvuma district, Masvingo, Zimbabwe, January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe needs nearly $1.6 billion in aid to help pay for grain and other food after a drought that has badly affected harvests and left 3 million people in need, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Tuesday.

That figure includes nearly $720 million to pay for 1.4 million tonnes of grain imports, with money also needed for irrigation infrastructure and a nutrition program for young children, a statement said.

“I am therefore appealing to the private sector and the people of Zimbabwe, inclusive of those in the diaspora, to support this emergency relief program,” Mnangagwa told reporters and business executives at a news conference.

The government would extend the plea for aid to international donors on Wednesday, officials told journalists.

Mnangagwa made the appeal days after President Robert Mugabe declared a state of disaster in most rural areas.

Zimbabwe’s economy shrank nearly 50 percent between 1999 and 2008. Critics blame government mismanagement.

The El Nino weather pattern has affected the amount of rain in southern Africa, including in South Africa, the region’s biggest maize grower.

Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Writing by Stella Mapenzauswa; Editing by James Macharia and Louise Ireland